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He leaned above his newborn son that day
When he returned with victory dearly won,
And felt the cost was not too great to pay
For threat of future wars forever done;
Nor grudged the wounds that made his footsteps slow
Now dark, deep scars his soul must ever wear,
But dreamed a far-flung peace his son would never know;
A world made safe for every warrior's heir.

The springs have come and gone but never one
Brought peace which waits, a phantom dream afar,
And war's dark shadow shapes into a gun;
The soldier's son may hear the call to war.
The father's scars must throb with deep new pain---
Has all his sacrifice been made in vain?


Anthem for Doomed Youth

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
       - Only the monstruous anger of the guns.
       Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
       Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs, -
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
       And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?
       Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.
       The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.


The Man He Killed

"Had he and I but met
        By some old ancient inn,
We should have sat us down to wet
        Right many a nipperkin! 

        "But ranged as infantry,
        And staring face to face,
I shot at him and he at me,
        And killed him in his place.

        "I shot him dead because – 
        Because he was my foe, 
Just so – my foe of course he was; 
        That's clear enough; although 

        "He thought he'd 'list perhaps, 
        Off-hand like – just as I – 
Was out of work – had sold his traps – 
        No other reason why. 

        "Yes; quaint and curious war is! 
        You shoot a fellow down 
You'd treat if met where any bar is, 
        Or help to half-a-crown."


Suicide In The Trenches

I knew a simple soldier boy
Who grinned at life in empty joy,
Slept soundly through the lonesome dark,
And whistled early with the lark.

In winter trenches, cowed and glum,
With crumps and lice and lack of rum,
He put a bullet through his brain.
No one spoke of him again.

You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye
Who cheer when soldier lads march by,
Sneak home and pray you'll never know
The hell where youth and laughter go.





By an unidentified Egyptian Soldier


Dear Leila,

I am afraid I am about to die,

for Egypt and Allah,

But this is not what I want---

What I want to do is live for you

My Leila, my love---

Remember me every time

the sun shines over the Pyramids

and the moon over the Sphinx

And ask Allah WHY?


I know that I shall meet my fate
Somewhere among the clouds above;
Those that I fight I do not hate,
Those that I guard I do not love;
My country is Kiltartan Cross,
My countrymen Kiltartan's poor,
No likely end could bring them loss
Or leave them happier than before.
Nor law, nor duty bade me fight,
Nor public men, nor cheering crowds,
A lonely impulse of delight
Drove to this tumult in the clouds;
I balanced all, brought all to mind,
The years to come seemed waste of breath,
A waste of breath the years behind
In balance with this life, this death.

from the play The Contention of Ajax and Ulysses
for the Armor of Achilles 1659
by James Shirley


The glories of our blood and state
Are shadows, not substantial things;
There is no armor against fate;
Death lays his icy hand on kings.
Scepter and crown
Must tumble down
And in the dust be equal made
With the poor crooked scythe and spade.

Some men with swords may reap the field
And plant fresh laurels where they kill,
But their strong nerves at last must yield;
They tame but one another still.
Early or late
They stoop to fate
And must give up their murmuring breath,
When they, pale captives, stoop to death.

The garlands wither on your brow,
Then boast no more your mighty deeds;
Upon death's purple altar now
See where the victor-victim bleeds.
Your heads must come
To the cold tomb;
Only the actions of the just
Smell sweet and blossom in their dust.


A contrary view: Alfred Lord Tennyson's, "Charge of The Light Brigade":

This poem was written to memorialize a suicidal charge by light cavalry over open terrain by British forces in the Battle of Balaclava (Ukraine) in the Crimean War (1854-56.) Many in the west best know of this war today because of Florence Nightengale, who trained and led nurses aiding the wounded during the war.


Half a league, half a league,
  Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
  Rode the six hundred.
"Forward, the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns!" he said:
Into the valley of Death
  Rode the six hundred.
"Forward, the Light Brigade!"
Was there a man dismay’d?
Not tho’ the soldier knew
  Some one had blunder’d:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
  Rode the six hundred.
Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
  Volley’d and thunder’d;
Storm’d at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell
  Rode the six hundred.
Flash’d all their sabres bare,
Flash’d as they turn’d in air
Sabring the gunners there,
Charging an army, while
  All the world wonder’d:
Plunged in the battery-smoke
Right thro’ the line they broke;
Cossack and Russian
Reel’d from the sabre-stroke
  Shatter’d and sunder’d.
Then they rode back, but not
  Not the six hundred.
Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon behind them
  Volley’d and thunder’d;
Storm’d at with shot and shell,
While horse and hero fell,
They that had fought so well
Came thro’ the jaws of Death,
Back from the mouth of Hell,
All that was left of them,
  Left of six hundred.
When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
  All the world wonder’d.
Honor the charge they made!
Honor the Light Brigade,
  Noble six hundred!


Wilfred Owen in Wikipedia

Siegfried Sasoon in Wikipedia

See also:
Poems by
Stephen Spender

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